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Fracking remains banned in New York, health and environmental concerns cited

Ellen Abbott
WRVO file photo
Hydrofracking protesters rally against the controversial natural gas drilling process at the New York State Fair. (file photo)

Environmentalists are celebrating after Gov. Andrew Cuomo said there will be no hydrofracking in New York for now, citing inconclusive scientific evidence on the health effects of the gas drilling process.

Cuomo’s health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, says as he examined numerous completed and ongoing studies of fracking’s effects on drinking water, air quality and other health issues, several red flags were raised. He says he has identified significant health risks in the current data that have not been answered by conclusive long term studies with large population pools.

“I cannot support high volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” Zucker concluded.

He says his decision on whether to endorse fracking really came down to one key question.

“Would I let my child play in the school field nearby (a drilling well), or let my family drink the water from the tap?” Zucker asked. “After looking at the plethora of reports, my answer is no.”

Cuomo, who has delayed a decision on fracking for nearly his entire first term in office, had originally supported the gas drilling as a means of creating jobs in economically troubled upstate areas. Now Cuomo says the challenge is to figure out what kinds of economic development can be advanced as an alternative.

“I get very few people who say to me ‘I love the idea of fracking,’” Cuomo said. “Basically they say I have no alternative because there is no other economy.”

On the same day the fracking ban was made public, a state board appointed by Cuomo and legislative leaders announced the siting of three new gambling casinos in economically depressed upstate areas. None of the franchises, however, were awarded to locations in the Southern Tier, which is above much of the Marcellus shale deposits.

Environmental groups, who had been planning a huge protest at Cuomo’s upcoming State of the State speech, were overjoyed. Julia Walsh is with New Yorkers Against Fracking.

“We are so thankful to the governor for sticking to his word and listening to the science,” Walsh said. “This is indeed a great day for millions of New Yorkers.”  

Supporters of fracking, including Greg Birla, with the pro-business group Unshackle Upstate, are dismayed.

“From an upstate business perspective, we’re extremely disappointed,” said, Birla who called it a lost opportunity.  

Cuomo’s environmental commissioner, Joe Martens, says in the coming weeks he will finalize an environmental impact statement, that’s been delayed for years, that concludes that hydro fracking will not be permitted in New York State. But Cuomo and his commissioners did not impose a time limit for the fracking ban, leaving the door open to revisit their decision sometime in the future.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.